Once a week, photo journalist Brian Leli has a brief behind-the-scenes encounter with a compelling band, musician, or artist and reports back on the experience.
Chicago, IL: Underneath the bar at Schubas, underground, a pint glass of Coke sits on the table next to a bottle of Jack Daniels. Brian King and Dave Prowse of Japandroids are eating dinner, mixing these liquids into two whiskey tumblers.
“We’ve always called them ‘rocks’ glasses,” Prowse says. There is a moment of silence to contemplate the proper terminology. But in the same moment, a drink is poured, and the thought is quickly abandoned. The drink, the Jack and Coke, evades such obstacles. It will be called the same thing wherever one goes, wherever one comes from. Its effects, too, will be the same.
“Four years and one day, yeah, since our very first show,” King remembers. “Neither of us thought about that until just now.”
Going back only so far as April of 2009, the band has played more than 200 shows in more than 20 countries. To add perspective, one must also consider that some of the longest tours in history have run much longer — well over two years — without ever passing the 250-show mark. And even then, those tours were not delayed by such things as King’s perforated ulcer and the emergency surgery and two months of silence that followed.
But tonight there are no such concerns, no tour to be interrupted. King and Prowse have been off the road and at home in Vancouver, British Columbia since November. They have come to Chicago only to play two shows: one on New Year’s Eve, and one on New Year’s Day. It’s the last time that they intend to play this same set of songs. The shows are being recorded in the hopes of capturing the fleeting moment. When they are over, the band will return home — where there is a new album to work on and a new world to which it will adjust.
The plan is to book four weeks in the studio. Twenty-eight days. Prowse rolls a pair of drum sticks along his leg and tries to fathom this stretch of time, this eternity. “Four weeks?” This infinity. “Post-Nothing was tracked in three days.”
Leaning forward beneath a wall of concert posters, King weighs a different sort of timelessness. “How can a record that was recorded 10 years, 15 years, even 20 years before I was born — how can that be the record that I listen to all the time now?” The Velvet Underground in the late 1960s; The Stooges in the early ’70s; The Gun Club in the early ’80s; The Rolling Stones and The Clash; what did they stumble into? Where did they find something so ageless? Where is it now? “I want to try to make something that someone could listen to in 10 years and still get the same feeling — something that could hold just as much power.”
But these are all matters for another time. There is still tonight’s recording, tonight’s show and tomorrow’s. The last of the year and first. There is still the crowd of people waiting in the warm and intimate room upstairs, already celebrating a night that is still young. There is still the band’s sound man Valentino, underneath the bar at Schubas, underground. Valentino would like a Jack and Coke. And he would like it in a proper glass, or he would not like it at all.
These are the things that matter tonight.
It is December 31, 2010 — New Year’s Eve. What was a pint glass of Coke is now just a glass. It sits on the same table as before, but now dry as bone. What whiskey remains is sitting on the side of the stage. King is climbing along his guitar and onto Prowse’s bass drum. Prowse is sitting poised behind it, pushing, pounding, kicking. There is a brief pause when the countdown begins: ten, nine, eight … a toast. Two bottles of champagne take their first breath on the stage and their last in the crowd that faces it. It is January 1, 2011 — four years and two days since the very first Japandroids show.